Here’s how I see the Complex working, using myself as an example: I could have easily benefited from the feminist-academic complex. I concentrated on women’s studies as part of my liberal-arts degree and my Independent Study project when I was getting my master’s degree in library science – since writing a master’s thesis was not an option at the time – was on founding and operating a sex-positive library, though I did not specifically study sex as an undergraduate or graduate student. The fact that I have a bachelor’s and master’s degree allows me to be taken slightly more seriously because they signal that I know certain ‘privilege codes and signals’ gotten from about seven years of beyond high school education, like knowing about or having 'the right’ books on my bookshelf or in my e-reader (Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider, anything and just about everything by bell hooks, some Barbara Ehrenreich and Naomi Klein, etc.), having seen or heard about the “right’ movies (anything Pedro Almodovar and Mira Nair, Outfoxed, Matrix, etc.) and the 'right’ music (usually some form of 'alternative’ hip-hop, rock, and country). It also means I know the 'right’ places to meet other like-minded educated people offline (coffee shops, poetry readings, film screenings, panel discussions, galleries and museums, and so on.) In other words, my stating that I’m degreed lets others know that I’m the kind of 'culturedness" that only a bachelor’s and master’s degree 'can give’ (translation: 'can pay for’ – which, really, is what educational privilege is welded with and signals)…and if I wasn’t exposed to these things, I can damn sure learn it quickly because I know the 'right’ places to go find such things, including the 'right’ Internet sources and from those adjunct and tenured types.
The linchpin in all of this and what I’m signaling to others by my degrees is that I’m capable of talking about complex ideas and issues, like the various schools of feminism, because I’m trained to do it, based on the 'virtue’ of the 'right’ knowledge and furthermore, take my complex notions to 'the masses’ who need to hear it and embrace it as part of their lives. (This notion is one of the rawest forms of educational privilege.) Because that, from what we’re told in these social-class incubators called four-year colleges and advanced degrees, is the great responsibility that comes from the great advantage – and promise – of being an 'educated person.’ The more subtle lesson passed to us in college is The Degreed are the only ones worth listening to – the more degreed, the more you’re worth listening to, because you’re an 'expert’ due to all those years of studying. When feminists took the fight to make women’s lives worth studying and analyzing to and within The Academy, that was one of the tenets that became absorbed and subsequently perpetuated, more often in various micro-aggressive ways, like rattling off where one went to school and 'was an activist’ in some conversations at women’s studies conferences or at the other aforementioned places to meet like-minded people.
But a couple of ideas fly in the face of that lesson, partly brought forth by feminism, particularly feminists of colour: 1) the idea that each person is an expert on her own life and the lessons borne out of it and can speak on that; and 2) that the Internet allows some people to talk about their life expertise. In other words, one doesn’t need a degree to talk about life, such as about sex.
Andrea Plaid in “‘No, I Would Follow the Porn Star’s Advice,” from Feminism FOR REAL: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism edited by Jessica Yee